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Ask Amy: Daughter pays for mother’s abusive behavior

Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: Have I been gaslighted?

My mother was a difficult person. She was often not nice to my sister-in-law.

I admired my SIL for taking the high road and for being respectful toward my mother, and I told her so many times.

I bumped heads big time with my mother, too, but had a good last six years when she moved near me and dementia mellowed her out.

My mother died five years ago and my sister-in-law reminds me often of how awful she was (my brother has no fond memories of childhood, and lets his wife do the talking).

The last time my SIL brought this up, I stopped her and said that although her experiences are valid, this is my mother and she is dead now, and I find it offensive to keep hearing about it.

I validated her feelings and told her again how much I admired her.

Initially she apologized, but afterward apparently decided that I was wrong. She is now quite angry with me, and said she prefers to work through this in therapy. After I tried to reach out, she says she doesn't want to talk about it.

I care for her and I like her, my brother and their children, but I’m upset about this.

I feel like making me the bad guy here is gaslighting.

What do you think?

– Gaslit?

Dear Gaslit?: I think this only qualifies as gaslighting if you actually believe that you’re the “bad guy.” You don’t believe this, because you aren’t.

The only thing I think you might have done differently would be if you had altered your own wording when responding.

Instead of saying that your sister-in-law’s remarks about your mother were “offensive,” you might have said how this made you feel: i.e. “Now that mom is gone, I feel so sad continuing to hear about how awful she was to you.”

I believe that speaking the truth about abuse or toxic behavior of family members (even after they have died) is valid and can be helpful – even if it brings up painful feelings. Doing so can help people resolve the sometimes impossible duality of being the child of an abusive person.

Your mother treated people badly. And yet, she was still your mother.

For your sister-in-law, talking this through in therapy (instead of with you) is exactly what she should be doing.

A skilled therapist will help her to figure out who the “bad guy” is and should lead her not to punish you for your mother’s sins.

You have been extremely kind and gracious to her in the past, and I hope you will continue. You also have every right to hold your own good memories of your mother; it sounds like you are lucky to have them.

 

Dear Amy: My boyfriend and I are in our late-teens and we recently learned that I am pregnant.

We have a lot to deal with but we are doing our best to handle this situation that neither of us really feel ready for. We both have great families and they are supportive.

We saw my boyfriend’s sister last weekend, and she told me that she wants to go with us to our doctor appointment so that when we learn the gender of our child she can then host a “gender reveal” party. (She is married and has a child.)

I know that some parents do this, but I don’t think I want to do it.

Should she come with us to the appointment? Should we let her do this?

– Nervous

Dear Nervous: No – and no.

You and the baby’s father should go to these appointments. If you would like more support at an appointment, you could invite her or another family member, but this invitation should come from you – not the other way around.

Establishing respectful boundaries can be a tough job. But this is the beginning of your life as parents, and you have the right and responsibility to develop good boundaries and good judgment about what you believe is best for you and your child.

Dear Amy: “Wondering” asked if her husband should incentivize his adult daughters to lose weight.

I can tell you from experience that he should stay out of it.

Why? It’s none of his business.

My father was obsessed with my weight during my entire life and brought it up whenever he saw me. After he died, I lost 40 pounds.

– Survivor

Dear Survivor: Obesity is a condition which is extremely resistant to badgering.

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(You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

©2024 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



 

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